In a world that continues to go paperless and so many people reading on their ipads and e-readers, Katie Wagner of Moonlight Bindery holds on to a treasured past by honoring the ancient art of bookbinding, preserving family heirlooms and literary antiques, and upcycling everyday materials into hand-bound journals and notepads.
During the week, Katie works for the Smithsonian Institution Libraries in what she calls her “dream job” as a rare book conservator. At home, she keeps a studio in the basement of her vintage Del Ray bungalow. The work is in her genes; her Danish great-great-grandfather was also a bookbinder.
For private clients, Katie does the intricate work of restoring books like this 19th century Bible.
And for fun, she makes modern and creative books by hand. Each one is made to last, crafted with extreme care using acid-free paper, cloth, and glue. She makes books from things as far-fetched as Legos, Shrinky Dinks, cork, and wallpaper. Katie says she can “make a book out of anything.”
Katie sells her hand-bound books and journals in an Etsy store and at local craft fairs like the annual D.C. Crafty Bastards event. We recently featured a few of her creations in our holiday post on local artisans, including this journal made from a turn-of-the-century German patent book featuring a 1903 bicycle design.
We had the pleasure of touring Katie’s studio where she let us peer into every drawer and cabinet in her space. I took furious notes on the arcane terminology associated with this fascinating and highly specialized trade. In a future post, we will show Katie’s step-by-step demo of how she creates a case-bound book, which is the hard-bound book with a covered spine.
Katie’s two young children know to steer clear of this room since it houses many sharp objects and precious heirlooms. Take these beautiful but deadly scalpels that Katie keeps within reach and uses to make fine cuts.
Katie also showed us some of the other books and bound boxes she makes, like these archival boxes that she might make if a client has a book that is too fragile to repair and is best stored in a box.
And these stamped Moleskine notebooks.
She uses a small Gocco screen printing tool to copy the images to the cloth or Moleskine covers.
Sometimes she makes an accordion photo album.
She may also bind a photo album with vintage wallpaper that she has collected over the years.
One of the coolest processes to witness is the way Katie presses (actually burns, rather) foil letters into a book binding. She uses a hot foil stamp machine and a metal font.
By using a colored foil, she presses words in color into the book cover permanently. Katie has even used solid gold tooling in her restoration work.
Here’s another set of letters that reads “The White House” in reverse.
The other binding method Katie may use is a 2,000 year old Coptic binding where she carefully weaves one of the threads in her collection into the paper.
That’s how she binds her modern Lego books.
To prepare a paper cover for the sewing process, she presses holes into the sections of paper by holding it in place with this wooden apparatus.
When we show the demo, we’ll reveal even more of the specialized tools, small and large, that Katie keeps in her studio and we’ll show you how to put them to use.
If you are a local artisan working in a home studio or you know of someone you think we’d enjoy meeting, we’d love to hear from you.